The belted kingfisher reminds me of the cartoon character, Woody the Woodpecker. That's because its head has an irregular crest. Before you see it, you will know it by its call. Near water you might hear it rattling. How much water? Big lakes, small lakes, big ponds, small ponds, streams or any of the above. I have seen it sitting on a telephone line just above a teeny-tiny, temporary body of water in a farm field.
Like the rough-legged hawk that hovers over its prey, the kingfisher hovers before diving into the water for a fish. It hovers about 20 feet above its prey before surprising it and carrying it to a nearby limb. First, the fish is thrown up into the air and then swallowed head first.
This bird would actually prefer to dive straight into a small pond or lake instead of hovering and then diving to catch its prey. Diving takes more energy, and one researcher thinks that that method is used if tree limbs near water can't be found. By the way, it closes its eyes before the dive. I would, too, if I were diving in as shallow a pond as it does. It doesn't always get its meal, but researchers have recorded that it is successful about 40 percent of the time.
To help it dive with perfection, a theory is that it uses two white spots just before the bill. They are thought to assist the eyes to better focus on the prey and correct the problem of the waters altering the light. Those spots might also help the chicks to peck at the parents for more food.
At night, it protects eggs and chicks on the nest or sleeps in a nearby hole that it has dug. Its third and fourth toes are attached to each other. That might be an evolutionary change to enable it to dig those holes.
Now let's review behavior by seasons. In the early spring or late winter, the kingfisher returns from its winter vacation. The male arrives first, although sometimes it stays north for the winter. I bet that depends on the weather. How amazing that it knows when the winter will be mild.
Because it builds its nest in a sandbank, that may disappear because of flooding or erosion. Its territory is about 1,000 yards. When the female arrives, the male will catch fish for her. Its call during this behavior has been described as mewing. Several birds have also been observed flying up several hundred feet, chasing each other in a circle and making their rattling song.
The female protects the territory, and the male builds the nest. Both sexes incubate the nest, feed the chicks and care for them. Food includes regurgitated fish, crayfish and insects. After five days, the chicks receive whole fish. This period usually lasts from late April to early June. The chicks fledge after about 27 days.
At the end of that time, in early summer, the male mostly continues to feed the chicks for another week to 10 days. After the young have fledged, the parents split up until the next spring. Molting occurs from July to October.
In the fall, the female will migrate farther south than the male. It just wants unfrozen streams and shorelines. That range can go as far south as the Caribbean islands and northern America.
Also, in the winter, she has a bigger feeding territory than the male.
I see a belted kingfisher flying over my property every spring. I checked the nearby creek with its steep banks for a nest. No luck.
I'll try again next year. It gives me an excuse to walk the creek. I'll also keep looking for a pile of small bones and white droppings. Those would be signs of its feeding perch.
If you have streams on your property, please don't use pesticides. It's so important to keep our water healthy. Do it for the kingfishers.